This week the book of Exodus begins,
וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל
"And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob..."
While it is often omitted from translations, the very first word of Sefer Shemot/The Book of Exodus is, "And..." Well, in truth it is not even a word. It is a single letter, a conjunctive vav, pulling a gentle thread forward from the book of Genesis. "And these are the names..."
It somehow feels appropriately asynchronous to be beginning the book of Exodus in this last Shabbat of 2018. All beginnings are hard. Ripe with expectation, loss, change, and anticipation. And all beginnings are also endings. Which is why I am particularly grateful this year for the reminder that there is also continuity. "And these are the names..." The very same names that end the book of Genesis appear again, recounted in the beginning of Exodus. Signaling this is one long story. Welcome to the world of redemption and revelation that will in turn take us back to creation. The Torah in truth has no beginning or end; hardly even a distinction between books, one long scroll with a few line breaks.
The rabbis continually read hints of the Exodus story into the book of Genesis, both of the Israelite enslavement and the promise of freedom (see Genesis 15:13). Perhaps this grammatically mysterious "And" is an invitation to ask ourselves, "What do I want to carry forward from my own creation story? What from the past year might hint at greater freedom in the year to come? What do I want to bring with me into 2019?"
For all those that celebrated, I hope you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy Kwanzaa. And I wish everyone a Happy (Gregorian) New Year!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.